Sports

Astros Schedule Ahead of the All-Star Game Provides Chances to Improve Further

Manager Joe Espada needs to keep his foot on the gas.
Manager Joe Espada needs to keep his foot on the gas. Jack Gorman
If you were one of the .0001 percent of people who never lost faith in the Astros when they were mired in one of their worst starts in nearly a decade, we admit it, you were right. For the rest of us, the resurgence of an Astros team to above .500 for the first time this season has proved both heartening and surprising.

Many of us wondered aloud if the Astros shouldn't be sellers at the trade deadline, shopping some of their top stars to help replenish a depleted farm system and refresh the team for another potential run with a different core of players. Now, it's clear this is a team that should be buyers given they are less than four games out of the division lead as of Monday afternoon.

Looking ahead to the All-Star break, the Astros continue with a reasonable schedule to balance out what could only be described as a remarkably difficult one to begin the season. They face three teams below .500 and one that is just ahead of them in the Wild Card race. Let's break it down.

Astros at Toronto (4 games)

The Blue Jays have had a disappointing season by nearly every measure, so much so that there is a likelihood that one or both of Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero, Jr. could be moved at the deadline. They are 3-7 in their last 10 games and 14.5 games behind the AL East leading Orioles, who the Astros just swept. Defensively, this is the same team that won the league's Team Gold Glove Award in 2023 and they remain a solid if unspectacular offensive unit with a few guys like Guerrero who can still mash. They have, however, been awful pitching. They lost Alex Manoah to elbow surgery and have gotten down years from Kevin Gausman and Jose Berrios. Their bullpen is awash with injuries as well.

This is a four-game series ripe for the picking as the Astros are coming in hot with loads of momentum. The Orioles are in Seattle while the Astros face the Blue Jays. By the end of this series, the two teams could be tied for first in the division.

Astros at Minnesota (3 games)

The Twins are at or near the top 10 in several offensive categories including on-base, slugging and OPS. They are eighth in runs scored. They won't blow you away with their power, but their are consistently a good hitting team, which is a big part of why they are just behind the Guardians in the AL Central. Where they have thrived is with their pitching. They give up a lot of home runs, but they also strike out a ton and walk very few. It starts with Joe Ryan who is a walking quality start. He has struck out 110 and walked only 15 this season. In fact, their top three starters average nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings with a combined 312 strikeouts to just 58 walks between them.

The Astros will need to take advantage of the long ball where they can. They are one of the best in the bigs at hitting it out and they will need to get guys on base and use their power to counteract the Twins stout starting lineup. They should also be wary of their old teammate, Carlos Correa, who is having a fantastic year at the plate.

Marlins at Houston (3 games)

When you start the year with nine straight losses, you might think things can only go up. For the Marlins, that isn't the case. They currently have the third worst record in baseball and that's with five wins in their last 10. On offense, they are second to last in runs scored, dead last in homers and walks. Their team OPS is a brutal .630. Not surprisingly, they are close to the bottom in most pitching categories as well. They are bad, really bad.

This is a series at home the Astros need to dominate. This cannot be a one-loss-to-the-miserable-White-Sox kind of series. They need to crush the Marlins.

Rangers at Houston (3 games)

The world champs come to Houston, a place that has not been kind to them this or in recent years. Injuries and offensive struggles have found the Rangers going from the top of the mountain to roughly halfway down one side and slowly sliding. Before they beat the Orioles on Sunday, they had lost six in a row. The 2023 high-powered offense that carried them to a championship has been just middle of the pack in 2024. And their pitchers, still patchwork thanks to injuries, give up too many hits with a WHIP that is bottom third in baseball.

This is a chance, ahead of the All-Star game ironically in Arlington, for the Astros to really put the Rangers in the rearview mirror. The Rangers have the Padres, Rays and a suddenly surging Angels squad before coming to Houston. If the Astros do what they need to, they could drop the Rangers 10 back by the break.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke